Update: It's been suggested in the comment that I have a thing against the isuckPod. It's not true, I have nothing against it, I just hate it because it sucks and I'm not alone. Let the war with Devils "I love Steve Jobs" Kitchen begin!
It's true that there are currently 1,350,000 returns for why iPod sucks, but then there's 10,000 more than that for why iPod rocks for that matter. But I was not really challenging young Dizzy on whether or not the iPod is the best music player out there; after all, that is really for the individual to decide, isn't it?
For the record, I have had two iPods—a second generation 20GB and a fifth generation 60GB—and I have never had any trouble with either of them. Admittedly, the battery life of the second generation one had dropped from about 8 hours to about 5, but I don't think that's unacceptable after 5 years' of very heavy usuage. Besides Apple—which, after all, doesn't manufacture lithium ion batteries—can hardly be blamed for the inevitable drop in power that these devices suffer over the years (and, no, I don't want removable batteries: as someone who was skint for two years, I was personally very glad that at least I didn't have to keep buying batteries for my iPod).
By all means, look at the blog posts of those who claim that mulitiple iPods have died on them and that Apple did nothing to help. Given that the one time that I have had to use Apple support they were superb, consider the standards laws governing selling goods that are "fit for purpose" and consider, just consider, that many of these people might, possibly, not be as innocent as they claim. They are probably the kind of chimps who played frisbee with their CDs ("because they said they were indestructible, man") and then complained when scratches rendered them unplayable, i.e. techno-wankers.
For the record, I have been very happy with my iPods, and not simply because I'm an Apple fanatic; they work well, they are simple and I've never had any problems. But then I'm the kind of person who looks after his possessions (you get like that when your parents have spent all of their money on school fees and any Christmas or birthday presents are very small and cheap. I can't get my head around kids who get a fucking XBox for their birthday present).
No, what I wanted to challenge in Dizzy's piece were some of the rather general, anti-Apple statements that he makes.
First there was Napster, and boy did we play, then came AudioGalaxy, then Gnutella, then Bittorrent, and then suddenly the immensely evil iTunes. Why might you ask is iTunes evil?
Well, for those of us who regard theft as fundamentally fucking wrong, I would say that iTunes is on the side of the angels. I can't stand this fucking argument: look, you cocks, we all know that Napster, etc. didn't use DRM: but then, that was because they weren't selling anything. The P2P companies were quite simply facilitating the widescale distribution of music without people paying for it: when you take priced goods without paying for them, this is called theft. T. H. E. F. T. Theft. There you are, children: that's our word for the day.
Now, you may think that music companies are evil (I don't, intrinsically) then you can justify this theft to yourself; in fact, I think that the growing concensus that music companies are evil has come from people trying to justify their thieving to themselves. "Music companies're evil, therefore my stealing from them (and the artists stupid or greedy enough to sign to them) is OK." Don't make me fucking laugh, you fucking thief.
When the iTunes Store was founded, it had to get a deal with the big music companies to be in any way viable. The music companies insisted on DRM and Apple had to comply; they then came up with FairPlay which has far fewer restrictions than most of the other DRMs out there. Apple also made it generally known that you could get around FairPlay by the simple expedient of burning your iTunes Store-bought tracks to CD and re-importing them as MP3 (or AAC, or whatever). It's a pain, yes, but it made the difference between the iTunes Store existing (and being successful) and not.
And I like the iTunes Store because I want all of those individual tracks that I had on cassette and 79p is a reasonable price to pay for them. Oh, and I refused to get them off Napster, or whatever because I am not a fucking, thieving bastard.
Anyway, why does Dizzy think that iTunes is, in fact, evil?
Well it's simple really, restrictions. Digital Rights Management (DRM) locks on downloaded tracks restricting users to the iweighatonPod.
OK, Diz; what you actually mean is not actually iTunes, but the iTunes Music Store (or just iTunes Store, these days)*.
Arguably it saved Apple.
Oh, good lord, how I love this argument! No, the return of Steve Jobs and the launch of the iMac were two of the things that saved Apple; it wasn't really the colours that did it either, but the adoption of easy to use connectivity standards such as USB (which, despite being invented by Intel, really didnn't take off until the iMac offered it as one of only two connection options).
What Steve Jobs also brought in was the proper exploitation of the G3 chip (by actually designing a new motherboard), the adoption of cheaper component standards (ATA instead of the fast but expensive SCSI, third party graphics cards rather than onboard graphics), good inventory management and the return to the original Apple business model (selling more units with smaller margins) which, literally, halved the price of a Mac. The promotion to Jonathan Ive to Head of Industrial Design—who was pretty much responsible for making Apples cool again—and the increasing susceptibility to infection of Windows PCs has also helped.
To try to pretend that the iPod alone (and the component that links it to the iTunes Store especially) has "saved" a company as massive as Apple is so ludicrous as to demand examination of the asserter's mental state.
Anyway, the iTunes Store opened in 2003, by which time the iPod was on its third very successful generation. The iPod was already selling tens of thousands before the iTunes Store even started: the iPod was certainly successful and in demand enough that Apple decided, for the very first time, to enable one of its devices to work with Windows (and took a bashing from not a few parochial Mac users for doing so).
Has the iTunes Store provided a boost to iPod sales? Well, probably: as Jobs has pointed out, the Store itself makes very little money, but there is a good margin on the iPod. But, as I pointed out, the iPod was selling very well before the iTunes Store came along.
Apple, having royally screwed the pooch, by restricting sale of their hardware in the 1980s, had been totally done over by IBM and Intel who released free license for clone machines.
IBM sold the license to DOS to Microsoft (and for a ridiculously low fee) which developed Windows. Intel didn't give two shits who bought its processors and was hardly in a position to dictate terms anyway.
Apple restricted sale of its hardware—who to? Not to consumers, anyone who wanted could buy one. But to other OS makers? Who? There were no widely used graphical interfaces at the time. And hardware wasn't like it is now: the memory restrictions were much tighter, for starters. The hardware configuration was intimately bundled in with the software configuration; cloning simply wasn't an option, at least not for the cutting edge things that Apple wanted to do. Put simply, much of Apple's hardware was designed specifically for the Apple OS because there was no other way for the hardware of the time to be able to run the OS.
By the time that these restrictions came cose to being lifted, the business models had already been set. The biggest single factor in Apple's demise was that utter fuckwit, Gil Amelio, who was intrumental in ousting Steve Jobs who, despite his flaws, was not only a visionary but could also sell snow to Eskimos (see Folklore.org for some very amusing anecdotes, written by the original developers, about Steve Jobs and the genesis of the Mac). He also decided to go for low-unit, high-margin business model which led to the continuing (and currently incorrect) perception of Apple computers as being massively expensive. On the plus side, if you had bought a few thousand Apple shares when Amelio was in charge, you would now be a very rich man.
The way that the current business model works is that Apple makes money from its hardware whereas Microsoft makes money from its software, as I have pointed out before.
The icosttoomuchPod stopped them diving into the abyss of obscurity.
Just repeating this, like some sort of self-help mantra, does not make it true.
Then, in a truly ironic way they invented iTunes, the application and download center which, like the evil twin in Redmond, restricted consumer choice by bundling together software and functioning APIs with hardware.
For fuck's sake, please distinguish between iTunes and iTunes Store! You can import into iTunes in a number of formats, including MP3, AAC, Apple Lossless, WAV and AIFF. Needless to say, most of my music comes from my CDs and is ripped onto my computer in MP3 (non-DRM and easily playable on all MP3-players).
And this was, of course, Steve Jobs' point in his essay, Thoughts On Music: music companies sell many millions more tracks with no DRM, on CD, than they do with it, so why make downloads protected?
Then yesterday it all changed.
Yes, Dizzy; it changed, just like that.
EMI shocked the industry by announcing it would be releasing downloadable tracks free of DRM, meaning that no longer were you restricted to using them on one particular player.
That's right, and obviously your demon, Apple, had absolutely less than fuck-all to do with that decision, eh? And here's the trick, these DRM-free tracks will only be available from those stores where you own what you download. Subscription stores, such as the new Napster, will always have DRM; this DRM ensures that if you don't pay your monthly subscription, then you will not be able to play your tracks.
Are Apple the good guys yet, Dizzy? You know, the ones who showed the music industry that legal download stores could work? That have persuaded at least one of the big labels to offer DRM-free music? Here's a paragraph from Steve Jobs' essay:
The third alternative is to abolish DRMs entirely. Imagine a world where every online store sells DRM-free music encoded in open licensable formats. In such a world, any player can play music purchased from any store, and any store can sell music which is playable on all players. This is clearly the best alternative for consumers, and Apple would embrace it in a heartbeat. If the big four music companies would license Apple their music without the requirement that it be protected with a DRM, we would switch to selling only DRM-free music on our iTunes store. Every iPod ever made will play this DRM-free music.
Jobs has made good on his promise, a promise that many doubted would be fulfilled; they postulised that Apple had too much to lose through falling iPod sales.
Steve Jobs obviously disagrees. We will see whether iPod sales fall, but my contention is that they won't, or not substantially. I reckon that almost nobody, who has bought an iPod, bought it because of the iTunes Store but because they wanted an iPod; a simple, compact, large-capacity MP3 player that does what it says on the tin. Obviously iPods aren't too expensive, by the way, otherwise people wouldn't buy them: the market sets the price (in fact, Apple could easily charge more for the iPod, and they would still fly off the shelves).
Sanity has reigned free int he world of music and we are back to the way it should be, where we buy and are officially free to use the tunes on other listening devices that we own.
As I have pointed out before, you already could, you numpty. You didn't have to buy from the iTunes Store: you could just buy a CD and rip it onto your computer (though it is worth pointing out that this is still, technically, illegal under British law. Now that is insane).
No longer are we forced to use the ihaveacrapbatterylifePod with our downloaded music.
You never were forced to use it: as I have said, you could simply have burned your music to CD in AIFF format and then re-ripped it to iTunes. As I said, it's a faff, but it can be done if you really are that worried about it.
All that is left is to start offering music in the patent free, Ogg Vorbis format and the world will be truly normal again.
Well, maybe that will happen, maybe not. Perhaps the Open Source community would like to get its arse in gear and promote itself? Oh, no, it won't because there's no financial incentive to do so, is there? There's no financial incentive to develop or promote the Ogg Vorbis format because no one stands to gain financially. Come on, Dizzy, incentives work, as you well know.
I approve Dizzy's sentiment: it is great that EMI have done this deal and I believe that Apple have been instrumental in this. To continue to cast Apple as the bad guys is simply pathetic though. Here's Jobs again... [Emphasis mine.]
To begin, it is useful to remember that all iPods play music that is free of any DRM and encoded in “open” licensable formats such as MP3 and AAC. iPod users can and do acquire their music from many sources, including CDs they own. Music on CDs can be easily imported into the freely-downloadable iTunes jukebox software which runs on both Macs and Windows PCs, and is automatically encoded into the open AAC or MP3 formats without any DRM. This music can be played on iPods or any other music players that play these open formats.
The rub comes from the music Apple sells on its online iTunes Store. Since Apple does not own or control any music itself, it must license the rights to distribute music from others, primarily the “big four” music companies: Universal, Sony BMG, Warner and EMI. These four companies control the distribution of over 70% of the world’s music. When Apple approached these companies to license their music to distribute legally over the Internet, they were extremely cautious and required Apple to protect their music from being illegally copied. The solution was to create a DRM system, which envelopes each song purchased from the iTunes store in special and secret software so that it cannot be played on unauthorized devices.
Apple was able to negotiate landmark usage rights at the time, which include allowing users to play their DRM protected music on up to 5 computers and on an unlimited number of iPods. Obtaining such rights from the music companies was unprecedented at the time, and even today is unmatched by most other digital music services. However, a key provision of our agreements with the music companies is that if our DRM system is compromised and their music becomes playable on unauthorized devices, we have only a small number of weeks to fix the problem or they can withdraw their entire music catalog from our iTunes store.
Some have argued that once a consumer purchases a body of music from one of the proprietary music stores, they are forever locked into only using music players from that one company. Or, if they buy a specific player, they are locked into buying music only from that company’s music store. Is this true? Let’s look at the data for iPods and the iTunes store – they are the industry’s most popular products and we have accurate data for them. Through the end of 2006, customers purchased a total of 90 million iPods and 2 billion songs from the iTunes store. On average, that’s 22 songs purchased from the iTunes store for each iPod ever sold.
Today’s most popular iPod holds 1000 songs, and research tells us that the average iPod is nearly full. This means that only 22 out of 1000 songs, or under 3% of the music on the average iPod, is purchased from the iTunes store and protected with a DRM. The remaining 97% of the music is unprotected and playable on any player that can play the open formats. It’s hard to believe that just 3% of the music on the average iPod is enough to lock users into buying only iPods in the future. And since 97% of the music on the average iPod was not purchased from the iTunes store, iPod users are clearly not locked into the iTunes store to acquire their music.
It is a remarkable and percipient post and I really do recommend reading the whole thing: I did comtemplate simply linking to it in order to counter Dizzy's post, but I thought that I'd make my arguments a little more explicit.
Over to you, Dizz.
* Now, I'm sure that Dizzy will say that iTunes itself is bad because it doesn't use Ogg Vorbis, but then the Open Source community has always been shit at marketing itself or, indeed, on agreeing on any kind of fucking standards; otherwise we'd all be using free Linux distributions now, wouldn't we?
The truth is that the biggest shot in the arm that the Open Source community has had is broadband internet; only slightly behind that is Apple's FreeBSD-based OS X. So Dizzy, as a Unix freak, ought to be right behind Apple, really.